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Czech and international organizations support bereaved family with Constitutional Court complaint over death of Stanislav Tomáš in police custody

22.3.2022 9:32
"Romani Lives Matter" remembrance site, 21 June 2021, Teplice, Czech Republic. (PHOTO: František Bikár)

The Czech authorities' decision to close the investigation into the death of Romani community member Mr Stanislav Tomáš, which happened on 19 June 2021 after he was forcefully restrained while being arrested, and their decision to discontinue all legal proceedings related to the case is a miscarriage of justice, according to a statement issued by Czech and international human rights organizations on 21 March. On 16 March 2022, the Czech General Inspectorate of Police Services (GIBS) announced that it has closed its investigation into the conduct of the police officers involved in the arrest of Mr Tomáš.

GIBS found the police intervention had been “carried out in a standard way, using coercive measures that were lawful, the use of which did not have a proven causal link to the subsequent death.” Recently the Office of the Prosecutor General also confirmed that the decision of the Ústí nad Labem Police Directorate not to open an investigation into the police procedure was lawful, as was the supervision of the case performed by the Ústí nad Labem State Prosecution Office, which confirmed that decision. 

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Forum for Human Rights (FORUM), organizations supporting the legal representation of the deceased's family, have responded by filing a complaint with the Office of the Prosecutor General about the way the criminal justice authorities have approached the case and are supporting the efforts of the bereaved family to bring the case before the Constitutional Court. The ERRC, the ROMEA organization, Amnesty International Czech Republic and the Konexe organization are all jointly questioning both the effectiveness and the independence of the investigation, and are asking the Czech Government to propose legislative measures to ensure that similar cases will be properly investigated by independent authorities in the future.

“The decision to close the investigation into Mr Stanislav’s death was not unexpected, but it is nonetheless a denial of justice. To the Government we say it is long past time for a statement on how they plan to salvage Romani people’s trust in a system that clearly shows little interest in investigating the actions of police officers, and [how they plan to provide] reassurance that measures will be taken to ensure impartiality in future investigations. In the meantime, we are continuing our fight for justice for Stanislav. The next step is the Constitutional Court, but we will explore every available legal avenue, including the European Court of Human Rights, if Czech courts are unable to provide justice,” said ERRC President Đorđe Jovanović.

“From the outset, the investigation of Stanislav Tomáš’s death was undermined by statements justifying the police intervention from high-ranking government officials, including the then-Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, which raised major doubts as to whether the investigation would be independent and thorough,” said Linda Sokačová, director of Amnesty International Czech Republic.

Mr Stanislav Tomáš was forcefully restrained during his arrest on 19 June 2021 by police officers in Teplice, Czech Republic and later died. Bystander video footage of his arrest was shared on social media and sparked protests across Europe; it showed a police officer kneeling on Mr Tomáš’s neck in a manner reminiscent of the police murder of the Black American man George Floyd in May 2020 (for which three police officers present at the murder have recently been convicted of violating his civil rights).

While the autopsy results released by the Czech Police stated that the cause of Mr Tomáš’s death was unrelated to the actions of the police, human rights advocates remain concerned that a minimum, the disproportionate use of force used to restrain him demonstrates negligence on the part of the attending police officers. “The openly biased approach of the authorities leads us to question whether the autopsy was conducted thoroughly, and if not, we cannot rule out that the treatment inflicted by the police was at least a contributing factor in Mr Tomáš's death. The only way to avoid any doubt is to have a truly impartial, independent investigation,” said Zdeněk Ryšavý, director of the ROMEA organization.

The Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights’ report on 13 December 2021 found the police responsible for playing a significant role in the death of the Romani man; police officers delayed calling an ambulance and neglected to monitor the condition of the man's health during their restraint of him. She also found that the internal investigation conducted by the Regional Police Directorate left out crucial information reported by the first responders about Mr Tomáš having collapsed before the arrival of the paramedics, an omission that could amount to a failure to conduct an effective investigation.

Domestic and international human rights organizations are further calling for a review of the training available to Czech Police officers on how to police minority communities. Human rights organizations say an additional, independent, transparent review of the investigative processes into police misconduct should be carried out, with a view to guaranteeing justice for the victims of such misconduct.

Excessive use of force by police against Roma is widespread across Europe, with a disproportionate number of such cases going back decades. A non-exhaustive map of incidents of police misconduct against Roma, Sinti, and Travellers in Europe is available here.

Zdeněk Ryšavý, ERRC, ROMEA, Amnesty International ČR, Konexe, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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death after police intervention, GIBS, Romani people, Soud



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